Scotland can lead the way in renewables drive

Fergus Ewing MSP
Fergus Ewing MSP
Opinion by Energy Voice

From the £15million Scottish Innovative Foundation Technologies Fund to support pioneering substructures, to the installation of the world’s largest offshore wind turbine at Methil, our offshore wind sector has many successes to celebrate from the last year.

This week’s Offshore Wind and Supply Chain Conference will give the industry a forum to recognise achievements, debate the key issues and address the challenges it continues to face.

Chief amongst these is the UK Government’s ambivalence and lack of ambition for the sector. Westminster has been a hindrance rather than a help to the industry over the last year.

Without a clear and ring-fenced commitment and budget to support the delivery of capacity, the supply chain and levels of inward investment that we want to see across Scotland will be at risk.

In December Westminster announced some welcome concessions to the offshore sector providing additional support through the new Contract for Difference. I remain concerned however that the designs and limits to the mechanism will restrict opportunities to develop the industry, which in turn means losing out on jobs and investment.

And in the same month I was surprised to hear Energy Secretary Ed Davey’s announcement on the Final Investment Decision Enabling (FID) process. This programme is designed to help developers of low carbon electricity projects make final investment decisions ahead of changes to the electricity market in the second half of 2014 which will be brought in through the Energy Act.

But the decision to exclude the Moray Firth and Seagreen’s Firth of Forth projects, as well as the disadvantaged ranking applied to three other Scottish offshore wind projects has prevented these projects from moving forward with their development plans.

I have written to the secretary of state to record my disappointment and will continue to urge him to revisit the decision on the FID enabling plans which, as they stand, could have serious implications for Scotland’s ability to release the power of offshore wind.

Scotland has the potential to be a world leader in all stages of marine energy – from technological development, to manufacturing, to the generation of electricity.

We believe that investment in developing offshore wind resources is necessary, and it will lead to more secure and affordable supplies of power over time.

It is essential that we have adequate, fit for purpose port and harbour infrastructure to enable construction installation processes to take place. That is why our economic development agencies, Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise have led the development of the National Renewables Infrastructure Plan.

As part of this plan, we established the £70million National Renewables Infrastructure Fund to support private sector investors in the development of manufacturing locations.

In my work and travels as energy minister it’s abundantly clear Scotland is leading the development of an exciting, renewables industry.

Developing a new industry is difficult under any circumstances but the UK Government is increasing the challenges. Why is Westminster determined to plough billions into nuclear power stations instead of supporting the release of our green energy potential?

Look at Hinkley Point which is likely to receive around £35billion in subsidy over the term of a contract which is more than twice the length of those offered to renewables technologies.

We all know Scotland is rich in energy with around 25% of Europe’s offshore wind and tidal energy potential but we are keen to expand our manufacturing base and maximise the manufacturing opportunities of our offshore energy potential.

Following independence we would introduce a leasing system for offshore renewables designed to increase investment and production while replacing the Crown Estate Commissioners. We will continue to support research and development on renewables and low carbon technologies.

With independence, control of offshore licensing and leases will create new opportunities to deliver community benefits from offshore developing while giving due regard to the diverse marine environment.

Scotland remains a hugely attractive place to invest and develop renewables projects. We continue to believe that as much of our huge resource as possible should be developed – as long as projects are suitably located – and that Scotland continues to play a vital role in helping the UK meet its binding targets and ensuring secure, sustainable supplies of power.

Fergus Ewing is the Scottish Energy Minister